Big Brother

New steerable camera transporter from Aries Industries provides improved capabilities for inspecting larger pipes
Big Brother
The transporter accepts multiple sizes and types of wheels for optimal traction and fit.

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Sewer cameras are essential tools for inspection, but even the best camera is only as good as the transporter on which it rides.

Aries Industries Inc. has introduced a new steerable transporter in its Pathfinder product line that comes equipped with a remotely operated arm to raise and lower the camera while operating, and includes numerous other features, including the ability to swap different sizes and types of wheels for optimal traction and fit depending on the size and condition of the pipe being inspected.

The TR 3400 Pathfinder XL Transporter is a “big brother” to the Aries TR 3300 unit and offers features found on that smaller unit in a size suitable for heavy-duty operation in larger pipes, ranging in size from 8 inches to 48 inches.

The TR 3400 was demonstrated in an asphalted outdoor work and parking area at Aries headquarters in Waukesha, Wis., on May 10, 2012, by Jeff Thorpe, Aries senior product manager.



The TR 3400 unit is about 20 inches long and weighs 65 to 110 pounds depending on specific configuration and options installed.

The unit has three axles geared together so that, with the right combination of still and turning wheels, it can turn a full 180 degrees by so-called “crab steering” — similar to how a skid loader or track-equipped machinery such as a bulldozer turns. Wheels can be changed to allow for a wide range of tire sizes and specifications.

While the unit itself is a transporter on which a compatible Aries camera is to be mounted, it also contains a rear-facing color camera of its own to guide the operator when reversing the machine through a pipe. LED lights and a mount for an optional auxiliary light kit are included.

The tractor includes a built-in 512 Hz sonde beacon that can be used to locate the unit from the street level when it is operating underground.

When the camera is attached to the unit, it is mounted on a multi-position lift that can be operated from the TR 3400’s control box. The lift, a standard feature with the unit, can be used to raise or lower the camera when it is in the pipe, rather than having to manually set the camera at a fixed height before it is put into the pipe.

The interior of the transporter includes two cavities: one in the upper portion of the unit containing the electronic circuitry that controls the transporter, and the other in the lower portion that houses the motors and gearing. The cavities are pressurized with nitrogen to ensure against leaks. LED lights on the unit indicate when the cavities require pressurization.

The unit is operated with its own control box, which includes a rheostat to control the speed, a joystick for steering and forward and reverse movement, and four additional switches: one to engage and display various diagnostic indicators on the screen while the unit is in operation; one to engage the auxiliary lights if they are in operation; one to switch between the front camera with or without auxiliary lights and the backup camera and its lighting system; and one to engage the camera lift arm.



Thorpe began by demonstrating the ease with which wheels can be changed on the TR 3400 Pathfinder XL unit. Hoisting the transporter onto the rear deck of a utility truck, he rested the unit on its wheels and used a hand nut driver to loosen the axle nuts holding each 3 3/8-inch tire in place. After he removed the tires, he flipped the unit on its side and installed an adapter plate scaled for larger tires — in this instance, 8-inch rubber tires with deep lugs.

It took Thorpe less than five minutes to change the tires on one side. After showing that process, he removed the large tires and swiftly installed six 4 3/8-inch tires on the unit, again using just the nut driver and his own fingers to hand-tighten the fasteners.

Once the new tires were in place, Thorpe attached a Pathfinder PE 3400 camera to the unit. The camera plugged quickly and firmly into place, connecting by a socket to a plug on the end of the lift arm.

Thorpe attached the unit to a standard Pathfinder cable reel. He noted that it can also be attached to an Aries RedMaxx cable reel with an appropriate adapter.

Thorpe then carefully lowered the transporter, with the camera attached, to the ground in the parking lot.

Once the unit was stationary on the ground, Thorpe used the controller first to demonstrate its turning ability and then to raise and lower the lift arm. The unit turned a full 90-degree angle within its own footprint. The lift arm, meanwhile, raised and lowered steadily under Thorpe’s control.

Thorpe demonstrated attachment of the auxiliary light. Using a flat blade screwdriver he removed a protective cap that sits atop the transporter to shield the auxiliary light connection circuitry plug. He mounted the auxiliary light unit in place on the designated bracket and plugged it into the circuitry. Once attached, he turned the lighting unit 90 degrees so it faced forward.

A loose piece of 8-inch PVC pipe was retrieved from a stockpile and placed on the asphalt surface for testing and demonstrations.

Using the controller, Thorpe steered the transporter down the length of the pipe and engaged the diagnostics switch on the transporter controller.

On the camera’s television screen in front of the images from the pipe that were being displayed, a series of white, digital letters and numbers reported on the tractor’s conditions in real time, including the unit’s temperature, the pressure, and the humidity. Indicators were all listed as “normal”; alternative readings include “low” or “high,” Thorpe explained.

Additionally, the screen displayed the machine’s direction (“Forward”) and also a reading for the voltage at which it was operating.

The auxiliary lighting as well as the camera’s onboard lighting produced plenty of light inside the demonstration pipe, allowing for a clear image.

The Pathfinder XL runs at a variable voltage between 100 and 200 volts DC to accommodate fluctuating power levels that decrease as the cable is extended farther. The unit has over-under voltage protection as a safety feature.

Once the unit had completed its run through the demonstration pipe, Thorpe used the control box to disengage the engine from the wheels. That allowed him to use the cable reel to retrieve the unit; to back a cable-connected camera up any appreciable distance would cause the transporter to rapidly “trip” over its cable and snag.


Observer’s suggestions

The Pathfinder XL easily went through its paces. The replacement of the tires was swift and appeared easy to undertake.

The auxiliary light unit enhanced the images inside the pipe considerably.

When steered, the unit moved in a very short radius to change direction.

The automatic lift arm extended and retracted smoothly under the operator’s direction.


Manufacturer’s comments

Thorpe noted that the unit is supplied with an extendable pole to which a special hooked bracket can be attached. The hook engages two short shafts near the center of the tractor unit. The system allows the tractor to be lowered into and raised from a manhole without straining the connection cable or the connection itself.

The bracket unit also contains two small holes in which a pair of miniature Maglite flashlights can be inserted. The extra lighting is intended to make it easier for the operator to retrieve the unit from the darkness of a manhole without the assistance of mirrors, Thorpe said.

In its base configuration, the transporter comes with three sets of tires: 3 3/8 inch, 4 3/8 inch and 5 inch. Spare parts, the controller, the lift hook and assorted accessories are also included.

In addition to the auxiliary light kit, a variety of large-wheel kit options are available.

Thorpe said the speed of the unit has been paced at anywhere from 54 feet/minute for the smallest wheel size to 76 feet/minute for the 5-inch wheels.


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